Study Results Touted as “Turning Point in Cancer Immunology” May Result in New Mesothelioma Treatments
A healthy immune system is one of the critical components for staving off cancer, but when the immune system is suppressed cancer cells can run amok. However, researchers have been stymied when it comes to distinguishing just which blood cells help the cancer cells beat back the immune system and take over. Now, researchers report they have figured out the mystery, and their findings may lead to the development of more effective immunotherapies for cancers, like lung cancer and mesothelioma.
In a Dec. 17 press release announcing their findings, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital researchers tracked different types of white blood cells, known to enhance tumor growth and suppress attacks by the immune system, to determine which ones help tumors. They found that monocytes, a type of white blood cells that are part of the innate immune system, are responsible for immune suppression.
“We have identified the monocytic cells as the important cell to target, not only in cancer but possibly for treatment of autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel diseases where dampening the immune response could provide relief,” said corresponding author Peter Murray, Ph.D., a member of the St. Jude departments of Infectious Diseases and Immunology, in the release.
Immunotherapy, defined by the American Cancer Society as a treatment that uses certain parts of the immune system to fight diseases such as cancer, has seen great strides recently in cancer treatment. In a National Institutes of Health clinical trial for cervical cancer, a cancer that is nearly as difficult to fight as mesothelioma when in its advanced stage, the tumors began shrinking and were virtually wiped out in two women through immunotherapy.
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that is only known to occur as a result of exposure to asbestos. As a result, the disease which can form in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart, is entirely preventable – however, it is also incurable. Mesothelioma is one of the most aggressive and deadliest forms of cancer, with limited treatment options. Researchers continue to search for a breakthrough therapy that will stop the cancer in its tracks.
The authors of the study, published Dec. 18 in the journal Immunity, say their findings mark a “turning point in cancer immunology and provide the foundation for developing more effective immunotherapies.”
“This study marks a significant step in efforts to understand, develop and optimize immunotherapies for treatment of cancer,” said Murray.